SANTA CRUZ, April 18, 2014 — The Columbus Blue Jackets may be series underdogs, but they gave the Pittsburgh Penguins all they could handle in game one. For anybody who has watched games between the two teams this season, it was no surprise that Columbus was in the game until he very end.
Thanks to NHL realignment, the two clubs have developed a spirited rivalry, and the Blue Jackets are clearly not intimidated by the Penguins’ speed and skill.
Columbus team president John Davidson is well into his makeover of a Blue Jackets team that had only appeared in the playoffs once before, a series in which they were swept by Detroit. To change the culture in Columbus, Davidson knew he needed to retool the roster.
The backbone to this version of the Blue Jackets was the acquisition of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky from Philadelphia. Bobrovsky gives the team a chance to win every night, and allows a maturing defense corps a few growing pains without costing the team. Bobrovsky was brilliant in game one, and he will have to continue his stellar play in order for his team to have a shot against the high scoring Penguins.
Columbus had a plan to slow Pittsburgh down and it was effective early.
The Blue Jackets forwards chipped pucks deep and then punished the Penguins defense as they raced to retrieve them. The barrage was unrelenting, resulting in poor passes and enabling Columbus to establish a fore-check in the Pittsburgh zone, possessions which resulted in goals early.
The Blue Jackets cannot match the Penguins in top end goal scoring talent, outside of Ryan Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov. The best chance for Columbus to stay with Pittsburgh is to slow the game down and continue to batter the Penguins fleet defensive corps.
Columbus is a team on the rise, and while they are probably not going to win this series, they are not going to be an easy out. By playing this tough, grinding style, and with Bobrovsky playing well enough to steal a game or two, they have a puncher’s chance for an upset.
By forcing Pittsburgh’s thoroughbreds to run on a muddy track, the Blue Jackets will be able to hang around and keep the games close, and if a team can do that in the playoffs, anything is possible.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.